Gov. Peter Shumlin, representatives from Vermont’s insurance carriers, and officials and staff from Vermont Health Connect (VHC) gathered Thursday, Oct. 1, to offer an update on the health insurance marketplace’s progress.
The governor announced that the technology upgrade necessary for a smooth open enrollment has been delivered and tested and would be deployed starting that evening: the backlog of change of circumstance cases has been cleared; VHC is now operating at a vastly improved customer service level for change requests; and customers will be able to report many changes online starting Monday. Meeting those milestones is consistent with the schedule laid out by the Governor in March 2015 and in legislation passed later in the spring.
“Today’s news is not mission accomplished but it is a significant step in our effort to deliver on the promise of Vermont Health Connect for Vermonters,” Gov. Shumlin said Thursday. “Every state and the federal government have struggled to get their health care exchanges up and running. It has been neither a smooth nor easy process for states or customers alike. While there is still a lot of work to be done and I have no doubt there will continue to be bumps in the road, the system upgrades deploying today and the incredible hard work that has brought the backlog of Vermonters waiting on change requests down from over 10,000 in just four months is a big step towards normalizing operations.”
The functionality needed to automate the renewal process has been delivered by the state’s system integrator, Optum, and tested with Vermont’s insurance carriers. Over the next month, business processes will be developed and VHC staff will be trained to use the new technology for open enrollment, which begins on Nov. 1 and is the time in the year when Vermonters with VHC plans can change their plan selection for the coming year.
“Meeting these milestones is just the first step,” said Chief of Health Care Reform Lawrence Miller. “Over the next month we will be honing the new technology and training staff on how to use it in preparation for a smooth open enrollment for Vermonters starting on November 1st.”
In addition to actually building and testing the technology, one of the necessary precursors to deployment was overcoming the historical backlog of change of circumstance requests, which had grown as high as 10,272 in May. Reaching that milestone was made possible by the successful deployment of automated change functionality at the beginning of June. Over the summer VHC staff worked through the backlog, processing change requests–such as changing an address or adding a family member to a plan–that had been a primary source of frustration for customers.
Vermont Health Connect receives approximately 125 change requests each day, producing a constant inventory. In addition to eliminating the backlog, staff has kept up with the new change requests. Starting in Oct. 1, an improved customer service standard was set for those change requests: Customers who report a change by the 15th of a month can expect to see that change reflected on their next bill.
Starting Monday, Oct. 5, customers are now able to report many of the most common changes–such as changing addresses and contact information–through a self-service function on the VHC website. The backlog of change requests prevented VHC from turning on this functionality.
The governor also outlined preliminary results of a study conducted by the Office of Health Care Reform, looking at the costs of transitioning to the federal exchange. Preliminary results show that the cost of transitioning to the federal exchange would be $24.5 million. The state of Vermont would be responsible for covering an estimated $11 million of those one-time transition costs. Further, the cost to Vermont state taxpayers of operating within the federal exchange would be an additional $5.5 million per year in state funds.
Open enrollment for 2016 coverage begins Nov. 1 and runs through Jan. 31. This is the once-a-year opportunity for Vermonters with VHC plans to change plans if they wish.